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Archive for the ‘Ausra’ Category

photo: Ausra

The week kicked off with French nuclear energy giant Areva’s acquisition of Silicon Valley solar company Ausra. As I wrote Monday in the Los Angeles Times:

French nuclear energy giant Areva has jumped into the U.S. renewable energy market with the acquisition of Ausra, a Silicon Valley solar power plant startup backed by high-profile venture capitalists.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but in an interview on Monday, Areva executive Anil Srivastava said that the price the company paid for Ausra was in line with the $418 million that rival Siemens spent last year to acquire Solel, an Israel solar power plant builder.

That would be a decent payday for Ausra’s investors, which include marquee Silicon Valley venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Khosla Ventures.

“The current shareholders are very well-reputed venture capitalists and I can assure you they negotiated very well,” said Srivastava, the chief executive of Areva’s renewable energy division.

You read the rest of the story here.

And the week is ending with Thursday’s announcement of another Silicon Valley-European deal. This time, as I write in The New York Times, California’s SunPower is acquiring a European solar developer:

SunPower, a leading Silicon Valley solar company, said on Thursday that it has agreed to acquire SunRay Renewable Energy, a European photovoltaic power plant builder, in a $277 million deal.

The acquisition follows Monday’s purchase of Ausra, another Silicon Valley solar technology company, by Areva, the French nuclear energy giant in a deal that an Areva executive valued at around $400 million.

SunPower has previously supplied solar panels to SunRay, which has a pipeline of projects in Europe and Israel that totals 1,200 megawatts. SunRay, which is headquartered in Malta, is owned by its management and Denham Capital.

You can read the rest of that story here.

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Photo: Ausra

Ausra has become the latest credit-crunched solar startup to seek a buyer/investor to bankroll its expansion. As I write Tuesday in The New York Times:

Disrupting trillion-dollar energy markets is expensive, as solar companies like OptiSolar and Solel have found. Both sold out to larger, deep-pocketed companies this year.

Now Ausra, a high-profile solar company bankrolled by some of Silicon Valley’s top venture capital firms, has become the latest renewable energy startup to put itself on the block.

Ausra, which makes solar thermal equipment to generate electricity, is in negotiations with three large international companies interested in taking a majority ownership stake in the venture, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The negotiations were first reported by Reuters.

All three potential acquirers are companies that make equipment for conventional power generation. Ausra declined to comment. Founded in Australia to build solar power plants, Ausra relocated to Silicon Valley and secured funding in 2007 from marquee venture capital firms Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and other investors.

Ausra soon filed plans to build one of the first new solar farms in California in 20 years. The company also built a factory in Las Vegas to manufacture long mirror arrays that focus the sun on water-filled tubes to create steam to drive electricity-generating turbines.

But as the credit crunch made building billion-dollar solar power plants an increasingly dicey proposition, Ausra switched gears earlier this year to focus on supplying solar thermal equipment to other developers.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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ausra-16

photo: Ausra

Silicon Valley solar company Ausra has sold its sole remaining solar power plant project in the United States, all but completing its exit from solar farming. As I write Thursday in The New York Times:

Ausra is continuing its exit from the business of building solar power plants, announcing on Wednesday that it has sold a planned California solar farm to First Solar.

The Carrizo Energy Solar Farm was one of the three large solar power plants planned within a few miles of each other in San Luis Obispo County on California’s central coast.

Together they would supply nearly 1,000 megawatts of electricity to the utility Pacific Gas and Electric.

First Solar will not build the Carrizo project, and the deal has resulted in the cancellation of Ausra’s contract to provide 177 megawatts to P.G.&E. — a setback in the utility’s efforts to meet state-mandated renewable energy targets.

But it could speed up approval of the two other solar projects, which have been bogged down in disputes over their impact on wildlife, and face resistance from residents concerned about the concentration of so many big solar farms in a rural region.

First Solar is only buying an option on the farmland where the Ausra project was to be built, according to Alan Bernheimer, a First Solar spokesman. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

The deal will let First Solar revamp its own solar farm, a nearby 550-megawatt project called Topaz that will feature thousands of photovoltaic panels arrayed on miles of ranchland.

“This will allow us to reconfigure Topaz in a way that lessens its impact and creates wildlife corridors,” said Mr. Bernheimer.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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ausra-16

photo: Ausra

Silicon Valley solar startup Ausra in January decided to get out of the solar power plant business and focus on supply solar steam systems to developers. As I write in The New York Times today, the company has announced deals in Australia, Jordan and, soon, the United States:

Ausra, a Silicon Valley solar start-up, burst on to the green-tech scene in 2007, bankrolled by marquee venture capitalists and armed with ambitions to build gigawatts of solar farms.

Earlier this year, though, the company abruptly changed course, abandoning its solar power plant business to focus on supplying solar thermal technology to other developers.

Now the deals are starting to roll in.

On Wednesday, Ausra said it has signed a contract to provide a solar steam system to a German developer, MENA Cleantech. MENA plans to build a 100-megawatt hybrid solar farm in Jordan that will rely on an oil-fired boiler to generate electricity when the sun does not shine.

Robert Fishman, Ausra’s chief executive, said his company also has agreed to build a 23-megawatt solar steam plant adjacent to a 750-megawatt coal-fired power station in Queensland, Australia. The company’s mirror arrays and boilers will produce supplemental steam to boost the coal plant’s electricity production.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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Stirling SunCatcher

photo: Tessera Solar

When it comes to renewable energy, Texas has been all about Big Wind. But this week the Lone Star State took on its first Big Solar project when San Antonio utility CPS Energy signed a 27-megawatt deal with Tessera Solar.

Houston-based Tessera is the solar farm developer for Stirling Energy Systems, which makes a Stirling solar dish. Resembling a giant mirrored satellite receiver, the 25-kilowatt solar dish focuses the sun’s rays on a Stirling engine, heating hydrogen gas to drive pistons that generate electricity. (Last year Irish green energy firm NTR pumped $100 million into Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Stirling Energy Systems and created Tessera to develop solar power plants using the Stirling dish, called the SunCatcher.

Stirling Energy Systems previously signed deals with Southern California Edison (EIX) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE) to supply up to 1,750 megawatts of electricity from some 70,000 solar dishes to be planted in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.

Other solar developers privately have cast doubt on Stirling’s ability to make good on those contracts, arguing the SunCatcher is just too expensive and complex to compete against solar thermal technologies that rely on mirrors to heat liquids to create steam that drives electricity-generating turbines.

But earlier this week, Stirling unveiled the latest generation of the SunCatcher at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. The new SunCatcher has shed 5,000 pounds and its Stirling hydrogen engine contains 60% fewer parts than the previous version, according to the company.

The SunCatcher also uses a fraction of the water consumed by competing solar thermal technologies being developed by startups like BrightSource Energy and Ausra — no small deal in the desert. Tessera solar farms also can be built in modules, meaning that when a 1.5 megawatt pod of 60 SunCatchers is installed it can immediately begin generating electricity — and cash.

California utility PG&E also went modular Thursday when it signed a 92-megawatt deal with New Jersey’s NRG (NRG) for electricity to be generated by a Southern California solar power plant using eSolar’s technology. Google-backed (GOOG) eSolar’s builds its solar power tower plants in 46-megawatt modules. The power plants take up much less land than competing solar thermal technologies, thanks to eSolar’s use of sophisticated software to control small mirrors that are packed close together.

NRG earlier this month signed a deal to build a 92-megawatt eSolar-powered solar farm in New Mexico near the Texas border.

eSolar CEO Bill Gross says his solar farms will generate electricity cheaper than natural gas-fired power plants, a claim PG&E (PCG) appears to confirm in its submission of the deal to the regulators. (Thanks to Vote Solar for pointing to the document.)

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Stirling Energy Systems Solar One project

image: URS

Green Wombat spent several months looking into allegations that California labor unions are using environmental laws to pressure  solar developers to hire union workers to build large-scale solar power plants. The story was published last Friday in The New York Times:

SACRAMENTO — When a company called Ausra filed plans for a big solar power plant in California, it was deluged with demands from a union group that it study the effect on creatures like the short-nosed kangaroo rat and the ferruginous hawk.

By contrast, when a competitor, BrightSource Energy, filed plans for an even bigger solar plant that would affect the imperiled desert tortoise, the same union group, California Unions for Reliable Energy, raised no complaint. Instead, it urged regulators to approve the project as quickly as possible.

One big difference between the projects? Ausra had rejected demands that it use only union workers to build its solar farm, while BrightSource pledged to hire labor-friendly contractors.

As California moves to license dozens of huge solar power plants to meet the state’s renewable energy goals, some developers contend they are being pressured to sign agreements pledging to use union labor. If they refuse, they say, they can count on the union group to demand costly environmental studies and deliver hostile testimony at public hearings.

If they commit at the outset to use union labor, they say, the environmental objections never materialize.

You can read the rest of the story here.

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solara

photo: BrightSource Energy

As the Nevada legislature debates extending tax breaks for large-scale solar power plants, a new report finds that ramping up solar development in the Silver State could produce thousands of good-paying green jobs while generating nearly $11 billion in economic benefits.

The study from San Francisco-based non-profit Vote Solar concludes that 2,000 megawatts’ worth of big solar thermal and photovoltaic farms — needed to meet Nevada’s electricity demand — would result in 5,900 construction jobs a year during the plants’ building phase, 1,200 permanent jobs and half a billion dollars in tax revenues.

“It is likely that such an investment in solar generating facilities could bring solar and related manufacturing to Nevada,” the reports authors wrote. “The economic impact of such manufacturing development is not included in this analysis, but would add significant additional benefits.”

Vote Solar’s job projections are based on an economic model developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to project the impact of solar trough power plants, the most common, if dated, type of Big Solar technology.

The different solar technologies set to come online in the next couple of years could change that equation. No doubt thousands of jobs will be generated by Big Solar but just how many will depend on the mix of solar thermal and photovoltaic power plants that ultimately come online. New technologies like BrightSource Energy’s “power tower,” Ausra’s compact linear fresnel reflector and Stirling Energy Systems’s solar dish may generate similar numbers of jobs. But then there’s eSolar’s power tower solar farms – which uses fields of mirrors called heliostats to focus the sun on a water-filled boiler, creating steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine.  eSolar’s small and prefabricated heliostat arrays cut out much of the skilled labor typically needed on such projects as they can be installed by two workers using a wrench.

Photovoltaic farms essentially take rooftop solar panels and put them on the ground and thus don’t require highly skilled laborers to build turbine power blocks, miles of piping and other infrastructure needed in solar thermal facilities. (They also can be built much more quickly than a solar thermal plant, which is why utilities have been striking deals with companies like First Solar (FSLR) and SunPower (SPWRA) for PV farms.)

A second report released this week — from the Large-Scale Solar Association, an industry group — found that Nevada could gain an edge over Arizona and California in luring solar power plant builders if it extended and sweetened tax incentives.  The three states form something of a golden triangle of solar, offering the nation’s most intense sunshine and vast tracts of government-owned desert land that are being opened up for solar development.

The timing of the reports was no accident. The Nevada Legislature held hearings earlier this week on extending tax breaks for Big Solar that expire in June, and Vote Solar’s utility-scale solar policy director, Jim Baak, went to Carson City to lobby legislators, hoping to head off one proposal to tax renewable energy production.

The Large-Scale Solar report, prepared by a Las Vegas economic consulting firm, found that if legislators let the tax breaks sunset, as it were, the developer of a 100-megawatt solar power plant would pay $55.1 million in taxes in Nevada during the first 15 years of the facility’s operation compared to $26.1 million in Arizona and between $36.1 and $37.9 million in California. If the current incentives are kept, tax payments drop to $25.1 million. A bigger tax break would reduce the tax burden to $14.3 million.

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